Breathing

I sit cross-legged, hands held together like a little bowl with the tips of my thumbs pressed lightly together, a technique I learned from observing the Buddhist monks in Thailand. My back is as straight as I can make it, but I keep my shoulders loose. Neck neutral, a slight bend downward to take pressure off of the spot where my spine meets the base of my skull. I loosen my jaw and make sure to relax my tongue so it doesn’t cling to the roof of my mouth. Eyes closed, I try to breathe without affecting any particular depth or volume. Sometimes I let out an an om or two to feel the vibration in my body.

I breathe as I have done countless times before. Active thought isn’t required here, but I can choose to be mindful about what my body is doing all on its own, to notice and pay attention to a subconscious, natural process. This attention to something so innate and so beyond my control, something I do even while I sleep, can be so grounding. It brings me into the present moment, even if only momentarily. Sometimes, it is so easy to hold that space where the present moment is the only one that matters. Most often, however, thoughts flow easily to past and future. When this happens, as it inevitably will, I try only to acknowledge it as thinking, without judgement of the thought or of me having had it, and simply let it go. I try as hard as I can not to analyze it, hold onto it, or remember it. Often, it doesn’t work, but the effort is comforting. I practice not grasping onto my thoughts. Always, I return to the breath.

This is the same way I learned to meditate from reading Pema Chodron’s books all those years ago. It is the same way I meditated on the tile floor of my little house by the lime orchard in Thailand, frogs croaking in the damp night, and much the same way I meditated during those early days of practice more than six years ago when chaos and confusion were the only constant forces in my life. I have sat in meditation in so many places and so many times, but they are all connected. Each of those moments in time is the same moment. Each of those places is the same place.

It feels so incredibly human. It feels wholly spiritual, in a way that completely lacks pretension, belief, or magic. It feels like coming home to myself.

The breath.

Inhale. Drawing in.

Holding. A moment of transition.

Exhale. Letting go.

Another transition. Emptiness. Loss. Relaxation.

This cycle continues forever. When we hold in at the top or dwell on the bottom transition we create an imbalance. We hold our breath or we refuse to draw another one. When we hold things without letting them go we cannot draw a full breath, we cannot draw in as much. By refusing to let go we are making it harder to draw in as much as we otherwise could. We make it harder to create the space we need to let people in. We must also grieve, experience the loss of what we have let go, cultivate acceptance, and find joy in the emptiness, the tranquility, or the absence of a thing.

We can find ourselves with ourselves and savor it. We can know that we are loved. We can know that our struggle is not ours alone, that the present is the only place that matters, and that each of those moments that came before and that will come after are there in that infinite present moment as well.

It feels almost divine. What an incredible privilege it is to share something in which every human has shared.

What an incredible blessing it is to breathe.

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insideout

I am made of stone, earth, and moss. I move so slowly that I appear to be frozen. A latticework of branches, leaves like fingers to soak up the rays of the sun. Bones made of shale, granite, and limestone. A mind made of rain-heavy clouds, eyes like hailstones. I move lethargically in no particular direction to no particular purpose, every moment the same one. Now is the only thing that matters.

This is the external life. Forces of nature, the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The world as it is, unencumbered by analysis, explanation, or interpretation. The internal life is the one known only to me, to each of us individually. It is the vast ocean depths, qualia, and subjective experience. I can only attempt to capture, describe, and explain this internal experience and release it into the world as it is, but it will never be fully understood as I understand it, just as the subjective experience of each individual is theirs and theirs alone.


I always seem to come back around to the same places. Old hurts and old loves circle back around and become relevant again, allowing me to learn from them anew or be reminded of the same lesson in a new context.

I have trouble letting go of things, places, and people. I always have. I try to cultivate a sense of acceptance about the innate impermanence of all things, but the struggle continues. I try to imagine pulling these experiences into my internal world, into my mind, heart, and body, and letting them sit for a moment or two, or three. While they are there I absorb a part of them just as they absorb a part of me. And when I am done I release them back into the external world. They are imbued with my essence just as I am imbued with theirs.

The holding comes more naturally to me than the letting go does. The holding takes effort. It taxes. It has a price. I have to let it go and allow space for the next experience to come in and exchange its energy with mine, to take part in this exchange that is our lives, that makes the world turn, and that makes the human experiment beautiful.

And, as always, I reserve the right to change. To change my mind, my life, my heart, my place, my person. The only moment that matters is now. The only place, here. And here, I am beautifully imbued with the essences of the experiences and people that have been a part of my incredibly lucky life.

I can’t hold them forever. I have to let them go. But they have all made their mark. They have all changed me, just as I will change again. And again. And again.

And again.

Broken Sky

Someone I love once told me that if there is something wrong with me, it’s because there is something wrong with all of us. That notion has stuck with me for a long time. Through all of the hard days, the pain in various forms, and the general sense of not being enough, this thought still sticks with me. It reminds me that my struggle is everyone’s struggle — it is our struggle. It reminds me that there is something endemic to being human, something so fundamental to our existence that we all share it. That something is a profound, ever-present, and inexplicable lacking.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I don’t know exactly why I write anything. Maybe for beauty. Maybe for self-satisfaction. Maybe to feel better. Maybe to share and connect. Maybe all of those things. Regardless, I feel compelled to spill myself out onto these pages. I feel compelled to be seen, as we all do in our own ways. I want to feel like I’m not crazy. I want to be reminded that I am not alone, that none of us are. I’m not the only one that’s broken.

Broken is the human condition.

The sky after a storm has always been one of my favorite things. Bright blue speckled with shades of gray, pastel hues, and refracting sunlight, or a blazing sunset made even more brilliant by hulking clouds and rain-washed air. It is my favorite metaphor for life. It represents so many things for me. Beauty, chaos, clarity, contrast, passion, pain, timelessness, uncertainty, impermanence, anger, fury, forgiveness, and renewal. The most beautiful thing to me is that all of those things need to be there. Nothing needs to be thrown away, discarded, or ignored. Nothing can exist without its opposite. Just like us. Within us exist so many contradictory ideas and emotions. They sit together occupying the same space.

Our inability to accept this duality is what causes us so much pain. Our struggle to simultaneously hold two contradicting emotions in our heart at the same time creates a dissonance that rings throughout our bodies in ways that are deeper and more extensive than we know. This is not our fault. It is built into us. It is built into our DNA

We inhabit a world that was never meant to make sense, and cursed with minds driven try.  

The sky after a storm is like a life splashed across the sky for us all to see. It is heartache and pain. It is joy and celebration. It is death and rebirth. It is new and ancient. No two skies will ever be the same, and yet beautiful skies have been around longer than there have been minds, eyes, and hearts here to consider them, deem the beautiful, or be touched by that beauty. To conduct our short little lives amidst a backdrop of such complex beauty and natural splendor is nothing short of miraculous.

It’s so easy to forget that the sky is up there waiting for us to see it. We spend most of our days with our heads looking forward or down. We trod along the paths we have set out for ourselves as we have convinced ourselves that there is no other way, that all of these things we do must be done. Occasionally, we cast a furtive glance upward, and if we’re lucky enough we can catch a glimpse of that beautiful sky, and even more rarely are we able to stop and consider it, to let it slow us down enough to reflect and ponder.

Every time that it happens I feel as if I am remembering something I always knew but somehow seem to forget so easily. It is a grounding, humbling, beautiful experience that reminds me how incredibly small I am in the best possible way.

Small things are precious. They are delicate. They are hard to see without intention and care. They are incredibly easy to miss. We are all of these things and more. Being small does not make us less significant. Everything within that sky is equally meaningless and miraculous.

It means exactly as much as it doesn’t mean anything at all.

 -w.

Aether

Out into the aether the words go.

I don’t even know what to say anymore. Here I am at the realization of so many years of hard work, of chances taken, and of painstaking efforts to try and open my heart to the world.

Being here now all I can think is,

Now what?

What’s next?

Do I just exist for the next 50 years? Have a career? Heap pile upon pile of responsibilities upon myself until I drown in them or lose my mind? Move to a mountaintop and forget the rest of the world ever existed? Start a new life? Chase the old one? Walk the razor-thin line in the middle? Practice acceptance and moderation? Let go of everything? ‘

Why can’t I just be somewhere? Why is the present so elusive? Why is acceptance a constant struggle?

Who do I become now? A collection of signals, sense data, and needs assessments tricked into calling itself “I” interacting with other waves, endlessly bouncing off of one another. Out into the aether…


My human heart feels far away. That person who relished connection, who believed in oneness, who sought out and embraced vulnerability feels so far from me now, and I miss him.

I miss that person who was finding out who he was before he discovered that he didn’t know. I miss a life in limbo where nothing was decided and existence felt fresh. I miss the inbetween.


I know you’re out there. I know you’re listening. I know that understanding comes with a grasp and a furrow and I am grateful for the effort. 

I want you to know how proud I am of you. I want you to know how happy I am for you. 

I want you to know so many things I can never say. I want to know them too. 

-w.

Bright

The minutia of daily life invade. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by all of the tiny, little tasks it takes to get through the day. I have nightmares about drowning in mundane tasks laden with false necessity. It is so hard to find meaning in our daily rituals of consumption.

This chaotic scramble for normalcy wears on me. Some days I feel like my light is being smothered. The light is still there, like a flickering candle, but there are days when the dark crowds in and I have to fight to keep it from getting snuffed out. When I try to explain what the source of this suffering is I cannot find words that accurately approximate the enormity of the missing that I feel.

These feelings are not new. I have felt them many times before, in many different forms.


I can still feel you. I can still feel every step I take away from you. Even the smallest ones. Maybe especially the small ones. Building a new home in a new place reminds me of my homes in days past and all of the things and people that made that place feel like home. Building a life without you hurts.

How could something hurt this much? I am astounded by the depth of it, the size of it, the sheer mass of it. It defies comprehension and explanation. Hope for the future and grief for the past swirl together within me and the dissonance is too much to bear on some days. So I ride through the surges with white knuckles and try to practice patience as I assure myself that things will get better.

There are bright spots. I am consistently and delightfully buoyed by the young people I work with. I listen to their stories and see their young lives unfold every day and I often wonder how they don’t break into a thousand pieces. How can people who have gone through so much still make it out the front door in the morning? How can they not only survive, but thrive despite it all?

I see hope in the face of despair. I see young people who show up every day even though they have been given so few reasons to do so. I see a passion for knowledge and an unleashing of incredible potential. I see effort and a desire to be engaged. I see vulnerability in an environment that often punishes it. I see bravery and courage and visions of a future that is brighter than the present, and such a sincere belief that it is achievable.

Their resiliency gives me hope. Their aspirations keep me grounded. Their love keeps me present and makes the light grow brighter. I’m not sure what I would do without it. I wonder if they will ever know how much they have helped me to stay afloat during this sea change.

Inhale

Everything flows through the heart.

The inhale rises up into the mind and becomes clarity, wisdom, and light. The exhale sweeps the flow of breath down through the heart and into the body where it sits and collects heavy, heat, and dark. And back up it goes, always through the heart.

Inhale, transition, exhale, transition, inhale, and so on…forever

(At least as far as we’re concerned. Our lives is our forever, after all.)

There isn’t really any reasonable starting point to choose from. At any given moment the inhale or exhale is the first and last. We are our own alpha and omega.


What is the difference between building or rebuilding a life and assimilation?

I feel as if I am constantly amassing more distractions, more noise. Things I never even knew existed become necessary and get thrown onto the pile. I bounce between things that need to get done.

Suddenly, I am a collection of tasks, accounts, systems, lists, and thoughts. It feels more and more difficult to meditate, to let go of thought. My mind is so busy it’s numb.

Tranquility is a dream. Serenity, a story from a long-forgotten past. There is no more peace, no more idleness, no more rest. Even my free time is consumed with thought.

We are always going. Always building.

More. Much. Towards. Up.

Have more. Do more. Be more.

SMASH IT.

Tear it all down.

Marvel at the beauty of destruction.

 

Then inhale

Qualia

Remember to let go of yourself, of who you think you’re “supposed” to be. Be one of “those” people. Be whoever you are at any given moment, on any given day. Discard stoicism, detachment, and shame. Feel free to change, to be unreliable, and practice acceptance of all the ways you are or one day may become. 

You’re not doing anything wrong. 


Hell is just resistance to life.

-Pema Chodron

I meditate on this bit of wisdom often. As I sit in my practice I try to hold and experience the essence of contradictory ideas, to contemplate them, and to strike a balance between them. Resistance and acceptance are two words that come up often during this practice. Both of these concepts are essential to thriving. Neither is right or wrong, they are merely opposites.

In my life, resistance is holding tightly onto things that are gone, things that I cannot have. Resistance is wanting to be somewhere else. It’s being not-present, whether my mind is in the past or in the future. Resistance to life is avoiding the painful emotions that arise when mourning the loss of people, things, and places. It’s letting fear guide my decisions.


There is a common thread here. Sometimes it feels as if my whole life is woven from the same fabric, one that I can see in its entirety only in fleeting glimpses and moments of clarity, but even that brief look is enough to reveal the complex interconnectedness of all its parts. The bird’s eye sees what feet rooted firmly on the ground never could.

A feeling of oneness is starting to return to my life, from a time that seems impossibly long ago, when chaos and pain opened and reopened doors I didn’t even know existed. Now, as then, I feel as if I am getting closer to something impossible. I continue to envision the heartspace and the places close to it, a place within us but also with lines connecting each one into a whole that moves with each inhale and exhale of breath. I wonder what it would be like to maintain that connection to the heartspace all the time.

This pattern, this common thread — it isn’t just mine, it is all of ours. It isn’t just my life, but all lives.


Impermanence is the only constant. Grasping onto anything, even ourselves, is resisting life. Let go and accept the pain inherent in doing so. Feel it fully. Embrace it, honor it, and try not to feel ashamed. Meet fear with love — love for the world, for all beings, and for yourself. 

Longing

Bright red and gold building exteriors flashing in the impossibly hot midday sun. Air that hangs so heavy you can feel it on your shoulders as you walk. Dirt roads lined with pungent stalks of bright green sugar cane. Rubber tires crunching small stones and clods of earth amid the sounds of a light breeze and a river that flows lazily towards the sea. The physical and emotional shock of walking into a brightly lit shopping center air-conditioned to almost refrigerator-like levels of coldness. Sweating through your shirt while sitting around a table carved from a single piece of wood under a sweltering sheet of corrugated tin and eating spicy hot soup. Nights as black as coal filled to the brim with the sounds of croaking frogs, ebbing and flowing intensity, a sound so full you could swear it has a physical presence. The echo of dogs barking in the distant night — you will never know why or at what. Shared, silent looks laden with more meaning than can be expressed in any word, sentence, paragraph, or novel. Sitting on a damp, freezing and yet somehow hot at the same time, smelling of urine, full of the sound of country music even though it’s 2 am bus smiling with joy because you’re on your way home. Holding hands by the river, sitting on concrete steps surrounded by the sounds of people going about the same routines they have been engaging in seemingly every day forever while the sun begins to set on the horizon, setting the rain-washed sky ablaze with its fire. Wind that comes to you amidst silence in the fields as the sun washes the earth and your soul clean, like bones bleaching in the sand. Rolling thunder that never stops, not for hours, or a whole night, the distant skies flashing with streaks of yellow, blue, and purple light that you can see through your closed eyelids as you fall gently asleep amid the cacophony. Feeling love that will never die coursing through your veins.

These things, and more, are all the things I have missed. Some of them I knew I would, others came as surprises. Sometimes the missing is distant. Sometimes it brings a smile to the corner of my mouth, only for a moment amid a hundred other thoughts. Sometimes the nostalgia and the missing feel so strong it hurts, like my heart might pop from longing so hard and I can’t believe it’s gone. Sometimes it brings tears that buckle my knees and close my throat. Sometimes I want to go back.

But I know I can’t.

This is harder than I ever imagined it would be.

Give/Take

(Can you get something without taking it?)

Give me mountains. Give me snow, stone, and trees. Give me the sharpest peaks of infinity.

Give me water. Give me streams, lakes, and oceans. Give me sunlight glittering on a thousand endless ripples and waves.

Give me rain. Give me drizzle, flurry, and hail. Give me a tempest, a downpour, a torrent.

Give me the sky. Give me vast blueness. Give me angled sunlight glowing orange, pink, and purple on the bottoms of billowy clouds. Give me a sea of stars.

Give me love. Give me quiet, intimate whispers in the dark made only for our ears, and a burning fire in my chest. Give me the unspoken bonds of brotherhood.

Give me light. Give me sun, flame, and spark.

Give me darkness. Give me solitude, peace, and a deep, unknowable fear.

Give me struggle. Give me pain, heartache, and broken bones.

Give me the vast, endless cosmos, where nothing we do matters, and everything is small and equally miraculous and mundane for being so.

Give me mystery. Give me the unknown, the uncertain, and the impermanent.

Give me truth. Give me knowledge, certainty, and answers.

Give me death. Give me silence, stillness, and tranquility.

Give me life. Give me verdant forests, birdsong, and love.

Give me chaos. Give me shouting, noise, and behavior that defies explanation.

Give me something to learn, something to do, and people to love.

Give me community. Give me minds and hearts worth knowing, a campfire, and a place to come back to.

Give me…nothing. Take nothing. Just be.

Vanish

This is. And thou art. There is no safety. There is no end. The word must be heard in silence. There must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.”

-Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

I still feel so far away from myself. It is as if I practiced walking away from myself during my time in Thailand, with a certain level of excitement and a sense of adventure. Now that I’m not there anymore I cannot find me.

What do I even want? The only clear answer I can come up with lately is a relief from this constant pain. I feel as if I know what I need to do to set myself on the road to recovery — meditation, solitude, space, community — but I don’t know how to obtain or practice those things in transition. I cannot, will not, or just do not do them.

I have this urge to just disconnect. A fantasy of vanishing like a ghost. To let go of distractions. Embrace pain. Embrace solitude. To reset, to restart. To return to myself — some sense of self, anyway. Strip off the outer layers and lay bare my essential essence. Cross the miles between me and the heartspace and allow myself to camp on its shores.

I’ve built up this life around me — we all have. This life full of shoulds. Things I can and cannot do. Obligations. Absolutes.

What would happen if I just discarded all of them? Not even discarded, but just stopped holding onto them and let them fall to the floor? To disappear, to vanish from this constructed consensus world where things matter that make no sense and simplicity is trampled by manufactured necessity.

I look around and I see so much misery. I see people escaping their lives and I resent them for it because their escape is a mirror that reflects my own desire to not be present because the present hurts too much, too often. Misanthropy begins to take up space in my heart, an unwelcome guest.

Find love again. Find hope. Acceptance. Joy. Faith in people. In freedom. That the absence of pain is possible.

Let it all fall to the floor.

You owe nothing.

Pain comes to all those who draw breath.

You are not a devil, or a monster. You are human.

Camp on the shores of the heartspace.

And breathe.